What, No More Free iPods?

Experian announced this week that it was getting out of the incentive marketing space and would be laying off two thirds of the staff at MetaRewards, the incentive marketing group it purchased just two years ago.

According to a company spokesperson, "The incentive marketing space originally attracted high volumes of consumer traffic, which provided an opportunity for us to offer advertising and marketing services to clients. Over the past year, the effectiveness of incentive marketing has eroded and volumes have dropped. We decided the best move for us would be to exit the incentive marketing space."

According to the data we've tracked at Email Data Source, the company's figures are right on the money. Take a look at this chart, which tracks the Alexa Web reach per million number going to the site, since we started tracking them in July of last year:



The red line represents the Web reach per million number, and, as you can see, it has steadily declined about 90 percent over the last nine months.

On Apr. 11, a letter went out to subscribers of various branded offer lists run by MetaRewards, with names like,,,,, and, stating that all these services would be terminated.

A close examination of other competitors in the incentive marketing space shows clearly that the decline in traffic over the last year is not limited to MetaRewards, but is endemic across the board. There are declines of up to 90 percent for the majority of players in the space. The question is, Why? Is it that ISPs have gotten better at filtering these offers out, so that fewer are reaching inboxes? Has consumer confidence in these offers dropped over the last year?

While it is certain that improved spam filtering has had a significant impact, I think the real culprit is the incentive marketing industry itself. It has gone to the well too many times with creative that is boring, repetitive, and out of date. Zero money has been spent in increasing consumer confidence in the programs. In the end, the industry has suffered from a lack of vision, leadership, or imagination.

A review of subject lines and creative over the last few years reveals an industry that has coasted for too long, letting its offers, programs, and incentives to grow stale. A lack of self-policing has also taken its toll. In 2004, we reported on incentive offer opt-ins from companies such as the now defunct Synergy Six, from which we began to receive pornography offers. And we demonstrated that a single signup on American-Giveaways generated thousands of spam e-mails from hundreds of companies. Rather than face these problems head-on and clean house, many incentive marketers have gone on with business as usual until the golden goose was dead.

The market for incentive marketing is still there. It only needs a company with vision to do it right.

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